Cork is at a pivotal moment in its history and needs funding to be ring-fenced in order to bring certainty to long-mooted infrastructural projects.
That was one of the key messages from Cork City Council chief executive Ann Doherty at the Irish Examiner’s Cork On The Rise breakfast briefing, which explored the future of the city through the lens of housing, infrastructure, sustainability and liveability.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney, developer Michael O’Flynn and world-renowned architect Angela Brady joined Ms Doherty in the new UCC Centre for Executive Education at the old Cork Savings Bank, with robust and frank exchanges in front of 120 business, social and political leaders from around the city.
Ms Doherty said essential projects for Cork that had been approved needed guaranteed funding, or investment in the city would suffer.
“What do we need to continue our journey? We need certainty. We need it to give investors confidence to invest in our growing city, including our docklands for the future.
A move by Government to ring-fence multi-annual budgets for Cork city would enable us to programme investment in the infrastructure needed to develop key sites in our city. This, I believe, would be a game changer,” she said.
Ms Doherty said more control over its own destiny would also lift Cork aspirations to become a reality.
“I also believe further consideration of devolution of powers to local government would be particularly welcome.
"Can you imagine what it would be like to have full devolution of powers to local government for planning, transport and infrastructure investment and decision-making? Giving local people with local insights the ability to develop our city in a sustainable way, in a programmed manner, bringing certainty,” she said.
There were spirited exchanges between Mr Coveney and Mr O’Flynn as the two men offered their visions of solving the housing crisis.
Mr Coveney said he believed height restriction on construction was hampering the building of apartments in Cork, and that “height is not at all a threat”.
Restrictions in Dublin had been a mistake, Mr Coveney said, and apartment building in the city centre would help alleviate the crisis.
Mr O’Flynn countered that he believed lifting height restrictions would not be the panacea for the housing crisis.
Tall buildings work in London or Dublin but not in Cork, he said, adding that a transient workforce would be attracted to apartment living in the city, but not necessarily families who wanted long-term housing.
The aspirations of the future had to be fused with realistic and achievable solutions for the short-to-medium term, Mr O’Flynn said, repeating his call for Vat reduction on housebuilding and a re-examination of the Central Bank’s rules on mortgage lending.
Mr Coveney said robust exchanges like those he shared with Mr O’Flynn were essential if the debate around Cork’s future was to grow, as well as engagement with local leaders.
The most important thing for Cork is that now we have created a foundation and a platform to build something very significant and special over the next two decades, that there is a collective effort across political, business, community, local and national government to make sure we continue this conversation.
"If there is a weak link in that chain, everyone else needs to get on the case so we maintain a momentum and drive that gets this city moving at a pace we all think it needs," Mr Coveney said.
Ms Brady spoke of how it was entirely possible for Cork to modernise into a world-class sustainable city while retaining its rich cultural value and heritage.
“The future is ripe for Cork to be one of the leading sustainable cities in Europe,” Ms Brady said, if it had the right type of housing, a densified city centre that was easy to walk and live, without dependence on cars.
"I'd like to see three or four design champions, to give the planning department teeth to make good decisions for quality design.
I'd like to see alternative types of living, different types of housing, intensifying the city centre for work and for all pockets of the economy.
"It is very important that the young and the old are brought into the city, and they will enliven it as much as anything else," she said.